The Fastest Growing Towns in North Carolina

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2010 to 2019 period saw small towns in the West grow 13.3 percent faster than large Western cities at 9.1%.

Using the U.S. Census Bureau definitions:

  • Small towns are areas with 5,000 residents or fewer.
  • Midsize cities have between 5,000-10,000 people.
  • Big cities have residents of 50,000 or more.

Between 2010 and 2019, 53 percent of tiny villages, 81 percent small towns, and 74 percent midsize towns grew in North Carolina. Four of 50 midsize towns in the same period four of them grew into small cities. These were Waxhaw, Weddington, Elon, and Waynesville.

Small towns are popular for several reasons, which include:

  • Close-knit communities of friends and neighbors,
  • Lower housing costs and small schools.
  • The dominance of family-owned businesses,
  • Plenty of opportunities to be a part of community leadership, and
  • Access to outdoor recreational activities like a good fishing hole.

Small towns near major cities are popular for the above reasons. The move to smaller cities was happening before the pandemic, and like a lot of things, the pandemic just accelerated it. Before the pandemic, the key drivers of growth in small towns were better economic opportunities and lifestyle preferences. The move during the pandemic was more about more space and cheaper housing.


In the southern part of Wake County, you will find the town of Fuquay-Varina. Its population is approximately 30 000 residents. It is traditionally an agricultural town, but its recent growth is due to its proximity to Research Triangle Park.

The area has a wide range of local businesses that are reputable and can suit different lifestyles or needs, whether it be a family looking for a dentist in Fuquay-Varina, NC, or a young professional looking for hangout spots. The town’s expansion has seen new shopping complexes, neighborhoods, and businesses opening up.

If you enjoy the natural scenery, Faquay-Varina offers green views, and it’s close to the beach and mountains. It gives you the small-town charms while you get to be close to big city events.


Leland is Brunswick County’s most populous town, with approximately 23,504 residents. The town offers concert venues, theaters, arts, fine dining, and it’s close to the beaches.

Retirees move to the town for affordable housing and lifestyle. They like Leland because they can get more square footage and a bigger yard than they can find in larger cities for the same amount. They also like the friendly community. The low property tax rate is also appealing to those on a fixed income.


Knightdale is another town in Wake County with about 18 000 residents. The town is 15 miles east of Raleigh and 28 miles from Research Triangle Park, so you get the small-town vibe with easy access to metropolitan cities. Many young couples move to Knightdale to take advantage of the scenery, low housing cost, and affordable lifestyle while commuting a short distance to work in Raleigh.

Knightdale offers extensive greenway spaces that include a 2.5-mile trail that connects with Raleigh’s Neuse River Trail and is biking, jogging, and hiking friendly. You will also find plenty of outdoor recreational activities in its forests like fishing, sports fields, community events, and wildlife viewing areas.

New housing in the area takes advantage of the green space with lots of mature trees between them. You can find Colonial Revival houses, bungalows, condos, and townhouses.


Clayton is a Johnston County town close to the research triangle area and has access to major highways like I-40 and U.S. 70. Downtown Raleigh is a 25-minute drive away, while the rest of Research Triangle Park is a 35-minute drive away. So you will find many dining and entertainment options at your disposal, such as museums and cultural festivals.

It is one of the state’s safest communities, so many young couples choose to raise their families there. The area has sprawling cotton, tobacco, and strawberry farms which form part of its landscape.

Holly Ridge

Holly Ridge is a small town in Onslow County, with a population of 3 000. The town offers its residents a suburban rural mix feel with many bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. You will find a small beach community. It’s often thought of as the gateway to Topsail Island, which gives you the means to live near the beach without being overwhelmed by tourists.

Small Town Living

Small towns are all the rage for various reasons. You get the wide-open spaces, affordable housing, lower taxes, and short commutes to metropolitan cities. If you want to live in a small city to raise a family, retire, or find work, you should consider North Carolina.